December 04, 2020

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – Book Notes, Summary, Review

Reading Time: 7 mins

From reading Steal Like An Artist, I learned how to become more confident in sharing the work that I create. By learning that nothing is truly original, simply a mashup of other ideas, I learned how to harness my creativity to generate ideas that are unique to me.

This is the second book I’ve read by Austin Kleon. The first was Show Your Work, which I found to be equally as insightful and as motivating as this book.

Read This Book On Amazon

Who Should Read This Book?

I would recommend this book to any creative individual that likes the idea of sharing content with others but isn’t sure of the benefits or if it’s right for them.

This book doesn’t give a step-by-step set of instructions on how to build an audience, but it does highlight the benefits of sharing something every day.

Additionally, the author shares the idea that by creating something small each day, over time, it will become something larger, like a book or a course that will be of tremendous value to your audience.

I would also recommend this book to existing content creators. This book might allow them to take a step back from their work and look at it from a new perspective.

It might allow them to refresh how they go about their work and motivate them to continue sharing valuable information with the world.

How This Book Changed Me

The idea that nothing is truly original is quite a freeing idea. If you use the skills and the interests in your toolkit, you’ll be able to see new and creative ideas in existing ones.

The key is in looking at things that already exist and look at putting your own spin on those things. This is something I’d like to keep in mind as I continue to consume high-quality content.

Garbage in, garbage out was another point in this book that resonated with me.

With that in mind, I have been very much encouraged to prune and manage the content feeds that I consume. I’d like to build up a list of small but high-quality content sources across platforms like YouTube (videos), Feedly (articles), and Podcasts.

I hope that by doing this I can become a “conscious consumer” and be able to learn more by engaging with high-quality media sources.

In fact, I recently shared an article on my blog about how I consciously consume content like books, articles, and videos using Notion. You can read that article here: Notion Library Tour: How I Capture Knowledge On What I Watch & Read.

My Top 3 Quotes That Resonated With Me

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – Page 11

“Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.”

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – Page 25

“Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.”

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – Page 64

Book Notes

1 Steal Like An Artist

Nothing is completely original. A good artist recognizes this and learns to build upon what came before to create something interesting.

By not focusing on creating something completely new, we are free to create what is interesting to us by using the influences of other great creators.

All new ideas are simply mashups of other ideas.

“You are the sum of your influences.”

Choose to consciously consume high quality content that you find interesting.

It is your job to collect good ideas.

Tiago Forte wrote a great article about cultivating great sources of knowledge that struck me as being very relevant to this point: The Secret Power of ‘Read It Later’ Apps – Forte Labs

This is how you cultivate great sources of knowledge: Identify one person/role model/content creator (whatever the case may be) and study everything you can about them. Then find 3 people that person loved and find out everything about them. Repeat.

Be curious and willing to learn new things. Google things and find out answers. This is how you become better.

2 Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are To Get Started

Impostor Syndrome – This is where you feel like a phony and don’t know what you’re doing.

The thing to remember here is that no one really knows what they’re doing!

“Plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”

Look to your heroes. Think about what makes you different and how you can use that to your advantage.

5 Side Projects And Hobbies Are Important

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” – Jessica Hische

As a creative person or any kind of knowledge worker, it’s important to allow yourself the time to be bored.

Spend time sitting and doing nothing. Go for a walk without headphones.

This free time allows your brain to connect ideas or to solve problems.

Cal Newport refers to this concept as Productive Meditation which I found really interesting.

6 The Secret: Do Good Work And Share It With People

“Do good work and share it with people.”

Having a blog can be a great place to share ideas and it can act as an incubator for your ideas.

Start a blog and share your ideas!

8 Be Nice. The World Is A Small Town

Be sure to surround yourself with the best people – those that are smarter and better than you. Learn from these people to make yourself better.

Consider a public fan letter about someone you admire: write a post about their work and link to it. Answer a question they have or solve a problem for them. Make something and dedicate it to your hero.

Once you have put content out into the world you have no control about how it will be received.

Try keeping a praise file full of positive comments and nice things to look at when you’re not having a particularly great day.

9 Be Boring. It’s The Only Way To Get Work Done

A day job gives you the opportunity to learn and copy from others. It will give you money and a routine. This financial freedom will allow you to be creative in your own time.

Creating a large amount of work is about building small pieces over time. Writing a page a day for 365 days can produce enough to create a book.

Jerry Seinfeld uses a habit tracker calendar to allow him to create jokes each day. Try not to break the chain and over time you will have a lot to show for it.

In addition to a habit tracker calendar consider keeping a logbook. This will describe what you worked on and what you are thinking throughout the day.

This will provide a valuable insight into your thought process and you may be able to uncover some new ideas along the way.

Consider asking yourself at the end of each day: “what was the best thing about today?”. This prompts you to think about the day’s events in a positive way.

10 Creativity Is Subtraction

Consider adopting creative constraints in your work. The thought that you can do absolutely anything is terrifying.

Set a time constraint or some other type of constraint on the work you do and examine the benefits that can come from it.